Analysis. After the success of the PP in the Madrid vote, the purple leader leaves the party and regional seat. Leadership is now in the hands of Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz.

Farewell to Podemos, Pablo Iglesias leaves a party worn down by attacks

The defeat of the Madrid left could not have been more resounding: not only did it lose the elections decisively, but the outgoing president of the Partido Popular, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, almost gained an absolute majority, with almost 45% of the vote and 65 seats (69 is needed for the absolute majority). In 2019, she had only 30 seats, with 22% of the vote.

All it will take is the abstention of the extreme right Vox (13 seats, compared with one more than two years ago, and 9% of the vote) for the PP to comfortably continue to lead the regional government.

The main losers were two: the Socialists, who, from being the first party with 37 seats and 27% of the vote, collapsed to 24 seats with 17% of the vote (their worst result ever), and Ciudadanos, which from 26 seats and 20% of the vote has vanished off the map, with 3.5% of the vote and zero representatives (the electoral threshold in Madrid is 5%).

The second place was taken by Más Madrid, led by the brilliant candidate Dr. Mónica García, which got 24 seats, with 0.2% more votes than the Socialists led by the uninspiring Ángel Gabilondo, whose resignation was already requested by the Socialist leadership.

But the spotlights are now all on Podemos, whose undisputed leader and founder, Pablo Iglesias, announced on election night that he was throwing in the towel for good: he is leaving the party and resigning his post as regional deputy. Paradoxically, it was the first time that Podemos improved its results compared to a previous electoral round: in Madrid, it went from 7 to 10 deputies, from almost 6% to more than 7% of the vote. Still, it was little, and certainly not enough to stop Ayuso, who was the main target of the decision to abandon the governmental front line in March.

But the problem—as the now-former Podemos leader himself admitted—is that his figure, or rather the caricature that his enemies have turned him into, no longer serves as a rallying point, and has by now become deeply divisive.

He has certainly made mistakes, but it was above all the campaign of systematic and personal attacks mounted by his adversaries and all his enemies (who are many, and very powerful) that has worn him down in these months and years. And it was not just political attrition: it went all the way to the extreme of receiving death threats during the campaign, which his opponents have ridiculed, breaking a great taboo of Spanish politics.

Until now, parties in the vein of ETA that spoke about death threats to their opponents were stigmatized by the establishment: however, during the campaign, those who took up the role of bullies mocking the victim who complains about violence were none other than Rocío Monasterio of Vox and the PP’s Ayuso, so evidently this has become politically acceptable to more than half of the population of the Madrid region.

However, as much as Ayuso and PP leader Casado would like that, Madrid is not Spain. There are 41 million Spaniards who do not live in the capital, and the political dynamics are more complex than in the city, where the PP has ruled continuously for 26 years. But of course, a campaign based on unfettered neoliberalism, even in the face of less than encouraging regional macroeconomic data, and especially in the face of the worst pandemic numbers in all of Spain (this region is where the excess mortality is the highest, and throughout this year, Madrid has consistently been among the regions with the worst pandemic numbers), is bound to find many followers among unscrupulous popular regional leaders like Ayuso.

She has managed to ride out the pandemic fatigue with the idea that it was Pedro Sánchez who personally wished to prevent the people of Madrid from having a caña with friends at the bar, and that she—the representative of the party that has dismantled health care and public education and privatized assisted living facilities for the elderly (which saw tragically high spikes in deaths last year)—was the champion of “freedom.”

Now, Minister of Labor Yolanda Díaz has taken center stage, already “crowned” leader of Podemos by Iglesias himself, who left her the vice-presidency of the government. Her profile is very different from that of the outgoing leader: she is discreet, favoring dialogue and work behind the scenes rather than in the spotlight, and in recent months she has racked up one success after another, securing unexpected agreements among the social partners.

She is a labor advocate who comes from the Spanish Communist Party and trade unionism, and who until now has tried to keep the negative attention away. The leadership of the party that wanted to “storm the skies” now turns to her—a party that after seven years of existence and having reached the halls of power is at risk of collapse together with the cumbersome figure of its former leader.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!